CAMDEN — The Preble Shawnee Local School District’s bond issue and income tax levy will be going back on the ballot in November.
The PS Board of Education approved the last necessary resolution to send the bond issue to the Board of Elections last week. The resolution passed 3-1, with Board President Candi Fyffe absent and Board Member Charlie Biggs voting no.
Superintendent Matt Bishop explained why the board is allowed to put this issue back on the ballot, when they were told they had two tries. He said, “Since we were approved for funding, we have three opportunities. We didn’t get our third opportunity, because one of our revenue sources was income tax and by state law you’re only allowed to run an income tax twice, and one of them has to be in November. So, we ran it in November and we ran it in May. We cannot go back in August for a third try.
“Since we didn’t pass it, we’re considered a lapsed district. As a lapsed district you have to pass your money, once you pass your money then the State funds their part. The other way was the State puts the money on the table and we had to pass our levy. So now it’s opposite.”
He explained that Carlisle is an example of a lapsed district who got their money after passing their levy.
Bishop added, “The State ranks the schools based on priority and I think we’re 12, out of more than 600 schools.” He explained that priority is determined by building needs, economic status, and the age of the building.
Board member Jeff Wood defended the board’s decision. “These buildings are a hodge podge. It’s not just one building. There’s nothing beautiful or architectural that’s left. Camden for instance, part of the building is 1915,” he said. “I do understand people’s concerns, we try to speak to those to the best as possible. I think we just need to keep reiterating the need and the shape of these buildings.”
Before the board voted, they gave the public the opportunity to speak to the issue. Each member of the public who chose to participate had three minutes to do so.
Kim Willoughby, President Elect of the PLSEA, spoke first. She addressed comments made at the last meeting that stated the teacher’s union had financial gain from the levy passing. She said, “I just wanted to make sure that the board and the public knew that was not the case. We’re not working to build union members, we’re looking to build our community and our students.”
She then shared student stories that she has seen at Camden Primary, where she works, highlighting why she believes the new schools are necessary.
West Elkton mayor and member of Residents United for Responsible Educational Expenditures (RUFREE) Bill Crawford spoke next. “Once again, I would like to urge the board to listen to the voters who voted you into office and whom you represent,” he said. “Fix the schools we have, maintain the schools we have, revitalize the schools we have, and revitalize the communities which the schools belong to. Reject this tax bond issue, there is no proof that a new school will increase property values. There is no proof that a new school building will improve education. There is no proof that declining enrollment is due to a lack of a new school building. There is no proof that a new school building will stop declining enrollment or increase enrollment. There is no proof that new school buildings will bring in better teachers, or retain good teachers.”
Kristen Doughty, who teaches at Camden Primary, spoke regarding the existing environment the schools provide for the students. “I just want to say about environment affecting students — there is research that environment does affect the way a student learns. I know when I was in college they wanted me to make sure that when I had my classroom for elementary to make sure it was vibrant, welcoming, and safe,” she said. “I cannot lock my classroom door. If there were to be an emergency I wouldn’t be able to lock my door. I would just have to shut it and hope for the best, or run out because I’m right next to an exit door.”
She added, there have been moves to fix and improve her classroom, but they do not last long and she still has issues. Not only can she not lock her door, but it has been known to snow in her room, and she cannot properly heat her room.
Preble County Commissioner and member of RUFREE Denise Robertson asked the board if there is a maintenance priority list. Board member Gary Rader replied, there is a list turned in at the end of the year so the work can be done over the summer. The teachers can also submit emergency maintenance issues online. Rader added, he and board member Wood work as liaisons for the maintenance issues and they review the issues regularly.
Next, Ellen Horton stood to speak. She said that she “empathized” with what she was hearing from the teachers of Camden Elementary, as she is a retired teacher, but she feared the levy was taking on too big of an project at once. She said, “It doesn’t take tearing down a 34-year-old-high school building to improve the buildings or going into debt for 37 years in a community the size of Preble Shawnee. The school districts that benefit from a major building like that are growing communities. Communities like Brookville, Mason, and Springboro. I’m offering the opinion that Preble Shawnee is not a district that can reasonably sustain, especially with dwindling enrollment, that kind of debt, especially over that time.
“Since Camden seems to be the main focus of need, perhaps we ought to start a little smaller and work in that direction. Not only for the good of Preble Shawnee school district, but for the good of Preble County.”
Greg Hamm had another proposition for the board. “I’m certain that the board is probably going to ignore some of the requests to not run this issue again and to put it back on the ballot for a third time. What I would challenge the board to do is to include language with that resolution that mandates that there will be an administration-slash-community committee to twice a year review our facilities,” he said. “Preferably people from the community who are of the building trades profession, who can put a fresh eye on things over the years. Point out things that are deficient and are falling into disrepair that need to be different or repaired.”
When the resolution came before the board, member Biggs stated his unease with running the issue again, saying he wishes the board would look at other options. “There are many other options we could do, rather than this. We are debt free right now,” he said.
Board member Wood asked him what he was thinking, and Biggs replied that starting with Camden Primary like Horton suggested sounded like a good idea to him.
Wood argued, the average school’s life is 40 years and putting work into them when they’re already close to that age is “throwing away” money.
As for the fate of West Elkton Intermediate School, Wood said, “The state won’t support putting any funds into West Elkton.”
“We said we were going to close it anyways at the last meeting,” Biggs replied.
“So you support the need to close West Elkton regardless of the outcome?” Wood questioned.
“I didn’t say that,” Biggs replied. He summarized, he just couldn’t support the bond levy until more research was done.
The board voted and the resolution passed 3-1. The Preble Shawnee bond issue and income tax levy to construct new schools will be back on the ballot in the November election.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH